Fans’ bliss is starting to wear off
Less than three months into its first full season of existence, Clipper Nation has already rolled out a new national anthem.
It debuted Monday, four minutes into the Clippers’ showdown with the San Antonio Spurs.
It was short, but reeked.
Everyone wondered when this wonderful Clippers honeymoon would be over.
The room-service flatware is crusted. The little soap wrappers are shredded. The joint smells of stale cologne and wet towels.
The bill has come due, and the Clippers are walking around with their heads down and their hands scouring their pockets.
It became official Monday when, in the same building, one night after the Lakers crushed the Spurs, the Clippers were crushed by the Spurs.
What a difference six months and 60 feet make.
Yes, the Clippers were without heaving Chris Kaman (virus), aching Corey Maggette (knee), and could get only four minutes from embarrassed Tim Thomas (the three-point specialist injured his finger on a dunk).
But still, isn’t this the team that always played hard no matter what? The heart of an underdog and the will of a Dunleavy and all that stuff?
They were beaten, 103-81, in a game that wasn’t that close.
They were beaten in a 2 1/2 -hour match that was over in the first five minutes.
Tony Parker layup. Tim Duncan layup. Parker runner. Manu Ginobili three-pointer. Parker jumper. Francisco Elson dunk.
Thirteen to four.
After that moment, if you don’t count Elton Brand changing his bloodied pants on the bench, there was only one real piece of excitement.
Between the third and fourth quarters, a Whittier third-grade teacher named Luis Jimenez sank a midcourt shot to win a new car.
He did it while shooting a basketball for the first time in three months. He did it with a right-handed baseball throw.
It was the Clippers’ only three-pointer of the night.
Is it any wonder that, before talking to the media afterward, Elton Brand sat at his locker with his head buried in a towel?
“The one thing about last year was, when we had guys go down, other guys stepped up,” Brand said. “This year, even the guys who are supposed to step up are injured. We’re up and down.”
After about one quarter of the season, they are 10 up and 10 down, a .500 record that wouldn’t even qualify for the playoffs at this point.
The Clippers committed twice as many turnovers as the Spurs, their leading scorer was 1.1-points-per-game Paul Davis and, yes, they missed all eight three-point attempts.
“We obviously have a lot of work to do to catch up to them,” Coach Mike Dunleavy said of the Spurs.
Funny, but last season, they came within one game of passing the Spurs into the Western Conference finals.
That was before Brand played too much international basketball in the summer, before Kaman and Sam Cassell suffered injuries that forced them to bypass training camp, before a sort of honeymoon fever hit everyone.
How bad was Monday? It wasn’t even the first time the Spurs have embarrassed the Clippers this month. Friday in San Antonio, remember, the Clippers were blown out by these same Spurs by 29 points. And they weren’t without those three players then.
Before Monday’s game, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich announced, “It will be impossible to beat them again the way we beat them Friday.”
Call this game, then, the Impossible Scream.
“It’s really disappointing, we needed to respond well to that shellacking,” Brand said. “We needed to have some pride and protect our home court.”
After he had picked himself up off the court amid a wild standing ovation, teacher Jimenez shouted, “Go Clippers!”
The Nation still wants to believe. But it’s getting harder.
Will Kaman return to form after receiving a big contract? Will Cassell’s leadership still work from the bench? Will Thomas ever startle this town like he did last spring with the Phoenix Suns?
And how long will the players keep listening to a lame-duck coach?
The Clippers and Dunleavy seemed on the verge of completing a four-year contract worth a reported $5.6 million annually, but negotiations have hit a snag on bonuses and other things.
If the deal is not worked out soon, don’t be surprised if Dunleavy issues some sort of deadline to avoid a season-long distraction.
“It’s frustrating right now,” Dunleavy said. “I’m just hoping it gets done.”
The Clippers are mum on the situation, but here’s guessing they will work it out.
Donald Sterling has repeatedly dug into his wallet to make this team a contender. This .500 record is not his fault.
Having led this team on a long journey to respectability, Dunleavy deserves a chance to lead it through the final steps, and here’s guessing Sterling won’t let him leave.
In the meantime, the honeymoon is over and Clipper Nation is undergoing increasing turmoil, witness the scene behind one of the baskets late Monday.
“Now you don’t think we need Iverson?” shouted a fan to baseline-sitting Elgin Baylor.
“Be nice,” shouted another fan.
“Are you going to wait until we blow the season?” shouted the first fan to Baylor.
“Be nice,” shouted yet another fan.
By the end of the game, the angry fan was still badgering Baylor.
The “be nice” folks had long since gone home.